"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Extreme Weather’

Abnormal is The New Normal: Connecting The Dots On Climate Change

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2014 at 3:34 am

ENSO temp influence

Oldspeak: “Even as abnormal is the new normal, we’re just getting started. Bruce Melton, writing for Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker, points out thattoday we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years.” In other words, the four-decade lag between emissions of greenhouse gases and consequences of those emissions is not complete. But it’s on the way, and there is nothing to be done today to undo what we did during the last 40 years. And, as pointed out with numerous scientific articles at my comprehensive summary dating back to February 2003 from the folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, abrupt and dramatic changes in climate aren’t out of the question.

This knowledge brings with it horror and relief. I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline. I’m relieved to know that today’s consequences result from emissions dating to the 1970s, when I was excitedly learning to drive an automobile. I experience no teenage guilt from youthful, ignorant actions.

I recognize that collapse of industrial civilization leads to a world 2 C warmer than baseline within a few days post-collapse. Where I live, in the southwestern interior of a large continent in the northern hemisphere, that means we’re headed for ~5 C locally shortly after collapse is complete. And that means no habitat for humans: Welcome to the dust bowl that never ends within a matter of months post-collapse.

Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.” -Guy McPhereson

“Was watching environmental activist Bill McKibben on Bill Moyers the other day. He was peddling this “there’s a global movement to solve the climate crisis” bullshit. i don’t know why a man who founded 350.org to draw attention to the fact that we needed to keep atmospheric concentrations of CO2 below 350 parts per million to have a chance at a livable planet when CO2 concentrations are currently at 400 parts per million and rising, would continue to spew this nonsense. Focusing so much energy and time on things that don’t matter, like protesting, marching,  getting arrested and appealing to leaders bought and paid for by fossil energy producers. He like many others have a hard time dealing with the stark reality of climate change. The basic fact of the matter is whatever actions needed to be taken to avert extinction of most life on earth needed to be taken 40 years ago.  We are just beginning to see the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change as conditions continue to worsen. it’s a safe bet that in the next 29 years humans will emit many more extinction inducing emissions than it has in the last 436 years as developing nations burn more fossil energy and dirtier fossil energy is extracted; that is of course if we last 29 years.” -OSJ

Guy McPhereson @ Nature Bats Last:

I’m routinely accused of cherry picking information about climate change. I plead guilty, with the following 1,000-word disclaimer.

I’ll start with a line from recently deceased professor emeritus and long-time teacher Albert Bartlett: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” When I speak and write about climate change, most members of the audience are stuck in fifth grade, unaware that nature often exhibits non-linearity.

I pick cherries because I see nobody else connecting the dots on climate change. I see nobody else making an honest effort to describe our predicament. So, by default, I’m The Connector. I collate, summarize, and synthesize information about climate change. And in the process of serving as host for the finest reality show on the Internet, I connect people, too.

In return, I’m the dark-horse candidate for Golden Horseshoe liar of the year award. No, really: You can read all about it. This planet has become so Orwellian that those who collate the facts and pass them along are hated as liars.

I see plenty of support for denying the obvious. According to a December 2013 paper in Climatic Change, the climate change counter-movement is funded to the tune of nearly a billion dollars each year. That’s just in the United States, where we continue to brag about our prowess in destroying the living planet long after a few of us recognized the irony in the following advertisement from Life magazine in 1962. The story is similar in other countries.

humbleoilad

How obvious is ongoing climate change induced by anthropogenic global warming? If you’re unwilling to look outside, consider the following graph from Climate Central.

10 warmest years on record

And even as abnormal is the new normal, we’re just getting started. Bruce Melton, writing for Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker, points out that “today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years.” In other words, the four-decade lag between emissions of greenhouse gases and consequences of those emissions is not complete. But it’s on the way, and there is nothing to be done today to undo what we did during the last 40 years. And, as pointed out with numerous scientific articles at my comprehensive summary dating back to February 2003 from the folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, abrupt and dramatic changes in climate aren’t out of the question.

This knowledge brings with it horror and relief. I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline. I’m relieved to know that today’s consequences result from emissions dating to the 1970s, when I was excitedly learning to drive an automobile. I experience no teenage guilt from youthful, ignorant actions.

I recognize that collapse of industrial civilization leads to a world 2 C warmer than baseline within a few days post-collapse. Where I live, in the southwestern interior of a large continent in the northern hemisphere, that means we’re headed for ~5 C locally shortly after collapse is complete. And that means no habitat for humans: Welcome to the dust bowl that never ends within a matter of months post-collapse.

Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.

I’ve given up on civilized humans making any effort to take relevant action. Never mind our stunning myopia: The money to be made is clearly more important than the extinctions we cause, including our own.

As pointed out in March 2012 in Nature Climate Change, several psychological reasons explain why people have a hard time dealing with the stark reality of climate change (David Roberts comments at length in his article at Grist:

1. To the extent that climate change is an abstract concept, it is non intuitive and cognitively difficult to grasp.

2. Our moral judgement system is finely tuned to react to intentional transgressions — not unintentional ones.

3. Things that make us feel guilty provoke self-defensive mechanisms.

4. Uncertainty breeds wishful thinking, so the lack of definitive prognoses results in unreasonable optimism.

5. Our division into moral and political tribes generates ideological polarization; climate change becomes politicized.

6. Events do not seem urgent when they seem to be far away in time and space; out-group victims fall by the wayside.

At considerable risk of pummeling the dead equine, I’ll reiterate a couple paragraphs I pointed out before:

Leading mainstream outlets routinely lie to the public. According to a report published 11 January 2014, “the BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds over six years trying to keep secret an extraordinary ‘eco’ conference which has shaped its coverage of global warming.” At the 2006 event, green activists and scientists — one of whom believes climate change is a bigger danger than global nuclear war — lectured 28 of the BBC’s most senior executives.

Mainstream scientists minimize the message at every turn. As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts. I’m not implying conspiracy among scientists. Science selects for conservatism. Academia selects for extreme conservatism. These folks are loathe to risk drawing undue attention to themselves by pointing out there might be a threat to civilization. Never mind the near-term threat to our entire species (they couldn’t care less about other species). If the truth is dire, they can find another, not-so-dire version. The concept is supported by an article in the February 2013 issue of Global Environmental Change pointing out that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama.”

In other words, science selects for conservatism (aka picking cherries long after they are ripe). Science, after all, is merely the process of elucidating the obvious. Climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama” (aka looking for the cherries long after they’ve fallen off the tree, onto the ground, and been consumed by rodents).

The feedbacks are too numerous, the inertia too strong. We fired the clathrate gun by 2007 or earlier, coincident with crossing the point of no return for climate change. The corporate media and corporate governments of the world keep lying, and too few hold them accountable.

____________

This essay is permalinked at Seemorerocks, Speaking Truth to Power and Before It’s News.

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With an eye to improving my “bedside manner” when I deliver presentations, I’ve recently become a certified grief-recovery counselor. A brief summary of the program, which I learned about from a contact on Facebook, is here.

I was extremely impressed by the workshop. In fact, I told the facilitator it was about a thousand times better than I expected halfway through the first of four emotionally wrenching days. The facilitator was among the best teachers I’ve ever seen.

I learned about my own grief, and how to deal with it. I learned dealing with grief is a process that requires practice. I learned that some losses associated with individuals represent opportunities to move on from the relationship.

I have suffered many of the usual and customary losses typically associated with grief, along with a few others. Who knew there are more than 40 kinds of losses? These include moving, losing a job, divorce, death of a loved one, and many others. I suffered considerable grief when I left the university: the loss of ego, friends, and colleagues was enormous, as was the sudden inability to teach.

I also learned a little bit about helping others deal with their own grief. That in itself is a big deal for a left-brained, science geek. I recommend this workshop to almost anybody who is willing to put themselves into the position of eager, heart-wide-open student.

I’m still working through the tools I picked up at the workshop. I suspect the process will continue for a long time. Like, as long as I have.

______________________

Please join me in supporting our friend OzMan as he literally walks away. Click here for more information.

____________

Thursday, 6 February 2013, 7:00 p.m., West End Cultural Centre, 586 Illice Avenue at Sherbrook, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, “Straight Talk About Climate Change”

Thursday, 20 February 2014, 5:15 p.m., Singer room, Eugene Public Library, 100 West 10th Avenue, Eugene, Oregon, “Climate Chaos & Resistance to Ecocide: Talks by Guy McPherson and Deep Green Resistance”

Friday, 21 February 2104, 7:00 p.m., Vancouver Public Library, 901 C Street Vancouver, Washington, “Climate Chaos & Resistance to Ecocide: Talks by Guy McPherson and Deep Green Resistance”

Saturday, 22 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Avenue Bellingham, Washington, “Climate Chaos”

Monday, 24 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., Odd Fellows Hall, 112 Haven Road, Eastsound, Washington (on Orcas Island), “Climate Chaos”

Wednesday, 26 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., San Juan Island Library, 1010 Guard Street, Friday Harbor, Washington

Thursday, 27 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., location to be determined, Tacoma, Washington

The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 7-day seminar, 24-31 May 2014, Moho Creek, Belize, Central America.

The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 14-day seminar, 12-25 June 2014, Izabal, Guatemala, Central America.

____________

Going Dark is available from the publisher here, from Amazon here, from Amazon on Kindle here, from Barnes & Noble on Nook here, and as a Google e-book here. Going Dark was reviewed by Carolyn Baker at Speaking Truth to Power and by more than 15 readers at Amazon.

“More Like The Whole Enchilada”: Arctic Stratospheric Warming Event Pushes Entire Polar Vortex Down To Middle/Lower U.S.

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Oldspeak: “At the peak of the Arctic outbreak, temperatures may be between 20°F and 40°F below average in large parts of the continental U.S., with dangerous wind chills affecting cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The U.S. will have the dubious distinction of experiencing the largest cold temperature anomalies of any land area in the Northern Hemisphere during the height of the biting cold… The cause of the Arctic outbreak can be traced to northeastern Canada and Greenland, where an area of high pressure and relatively mild temperatures is set to block the eastward progression of weather systems, like an offensive lineman protecting the quarterback from the other team…  The atmospheric blocking is forcing a section of the polar vortex to break off and move south, into the U.S. The polar vortex is an area of cold low pressure that typically circulates around the Arctic during the winter, spreading tentacles of cold southward into Europe, Asia, and North America at times. Except this time, it’s not a small section of the vortex, but what one forecaster, Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics, called “more like the whole enchiladaAndrew Freeman

More than half the US population is under a wind chill warning as a blast of freezing Arctic air sweeps south and east across the country, bringing the coldest temperatures for decadesThe US saw colder temperatures than Almaty, Kazakhstan, where it was -22C (8F), Mongolia at -23C (-8F) and Irkutsk, in Siberia, at -33C (-27F)… The National Weather Service has issued life-threatening wind chill warnings for temperatures as low as -51C (-60F) in western and central Dakota and officials in Indiana – hit by high winds and more than a foot (30cm) of snow – urged residents to stay indoors. –Duncan Barkes

“When America is colder than fucking Siberia, something is terribly, terribly wrong.  Entire weather patterns are being drastically altered on a regular basis. The temperature dropped 50 degrees in 3 HOURS yesterday in New York.  Last year the polar vortex, that’s always supposed to stay in or near the arctic, was cleaved in two and moved south as a result of arctic warming via loss of sea ice. This year, the whole fucking thing moved south in one direction at once. As the climate warms the irreversible feedback loops currently in progress will accelerate. Weather will become less and less predictable and more and more extreme. Meanwhile, at the same time record cold grips North America, record heat is wilting Australia. This is the new normal. The era of stable climate has passed.” -OSJ

Related Story

Polar Vortex: 187 Million Hit By Big Freeze

By James S @ Daily Kos:

If the planet is warming — how can it be so damn cold out there, in the winter?

Well the connections are complex, but they are not unfathomable (to science and physics literates.)
‘Polar vortex’ to blast frigid air over much of US

by Carson Walker, Associated Press; boston.com — Jan 3, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The weather warnings are dire: Life threatening wind chills. Historic cold outbreak.Winter is normally cold, but starting Sunday tundra-like temperatures are poised to deliver a rare and potentially dangerous sledgehammer blow to much of the Midwest, driving temperatures so far below zero that records will shatter.

One reason?  A “polar vortex,” as one meteorologist calls it, which will send cold air piled up at the North Pole down to the U.S., funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast.
[…]

Here’s what our current mid-latitude Jet Stream looks likes:

Weather ModelGlobal Jet Stream Wind and 250 mb Pressure (animated loop)


larger

Notice how it has those big ‘loopy waves’  (aka high-amplitude Rossby Waves).  It is the big swoop southward that is ushering in the current frigid polar air.
Arctic Outbreak:  When the North Pole Came to Ohio

by Andrew Freedman, climatecentral.org — Jan 2, 2014

[…]
At the peak of the Arctic outbreak, temperatures may be between 20°F and 40°F below average in large parts of the continental U.S., with dangerous wind chills affecting cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The U.S. will have the dubious distinction of experiencing the largest cold temperature anomalies of any land area in the Northern Hemisphere during the height of the biting cold.
[…]The cause of the Arctic outbreak can be traced to northeastern Canada and Greenland, where an area of high pressure and relatively mild temperatures is set to block the eastward progression of weather systems, like an offensive lineman protecting the quarterback from the other team.

The atmospheric blocking is forcing a section of the polar vortex to break off and move south, into the U.S. The polar vortex is an area of cold low pressure that typically circulates around the Arctic during the winter, spreading tentacles of cold southward into Europe, Asia, and North America at times. Except this time, it’s not a small section of the vortex, but what one forecaster, Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics, called “more like the whole enchilada” in a Twitter conversation on Thursday.
[…]

Computer model projection showing the location of the polar vortex (outlined in orange) and areas of below average temperatures (green and blue) and above average temperatures (orange and red), as indicated by the height of atmospheric pressure levels. The annotations show the cold temperature anomaly in the U.S. and mild anomalies across the Arctic. Credit: WeatherBELL Analytics.

The Arctic Vortex is supposed to stay in the Arctic.  It is supposed to form a tight circle, racing around the pole. It is not supposed to branch out and send frigid polar air to the temperate mid-latitudes.  At least not on a ‘regular basis’.

But then again, unusual stratospheric warming in the Arctic, is not supposed to be breaking that Polar Vortex up into smaller pieces, either.

Just because it’s out of sight, doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.

 

[Note:  most of what follows is analysis of last winter’s arctic events — which are looking remarkably similar to this winter’s arctic events.]


Who says all that record-breaking Arctic Ice Melt really doesn’t matter?

Certainly not well informed meteorologists, because they say it kind of does
Stratospheric Phenomenon Is Bringing Frigid Cold to U.S

by Andrew Freedman, climatecentral.org — Jan 21, 2013

[…]
Sudden stratospheric warming events take place in about half of all Northern Hemisphere winters, and they have been occurring with increasing frequency during the past decade, possibly related to the loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming. Arctic sea ice declined to its smallest extent on record in September 2012.
[…]Sudden stratospheric warming events occur when large atmospheric waves, known as Rossby waves, extend beyond the troposphere where most weather occurs, and into the stratosphere. This vertical transport of energy can set a complex process into motion that leads to the breakdown of the high altitude cold low pressure area that typically spins above the North Pole during the winter, which is known as the polar vortex.

The polar vortex plays a major role in determining how much Arctic air spills southward toward the mid-latitudes. When there is a strong polar vortex, cold air tends to stay bottled up in the Arctic. However, when the vortex weakens or is disrupted, like a spinning top that suddenly starts wobbling, it can cause polar air masses to surge south, while the Arctic experiences milder-than-average temperatures.
[…]

Ok, what’s a Rossby Wave and how does global warming effect them?  (If you have a low threshold for watching videos, this is the best one of the bunch, imo.)
Jennifer Francis – Understanding the Jetstream (and Rossby Waves)

link to clip

Published on Feb 26, 2013 — by rustneversleeps3

A short review of how the jetstream and Rossby waves work, and some emerging indications that the dynamics may be changing in a warming world.

So, what’s a Polar Vortex, and what happens when it get displaced, by one of those unusually TALL bubbles of relatively warm atmosphere, surging northward?
Polar Vortex

link to clip

Published on Jan 18, 2013 — WTHI-TV
Here’s an meteorological map analysis of various Arctic Vortex splits, what causes them, and what they lead to (… record cold in the Mid-Latitudes).
Stratospheric Warming by The SI Weather

link to clip

Uploaded on Dec 16, 2011 — TheSIWeather
Here’s one meteorological speaker, who’s a bit eccentric, but does seem to have a good grasp on Stratospheric Warming events — going Polar, anyways.
Extreme Event  (Vortex Formation and Displacement)

link to clip

Published on Jan 18, 2013 — TurtleIslandNewsDaily.info

Sudden Stratospheric Warming Split the Polar Vortex in Two.the polar vortex was intact at 50 millibars(height in m) on January 1 to 3.

the polar vortex had broken in two (50millibar heights in m) on January 10 to 13

Finally, here’s a good old-fashioned science satellite composite (it’s a very short clip), that shows what happens when the Polar Vortex, gets nudged into going for ‘a power walk’.
GMAOGEOS-5 Stratospheric Sudden warming Event

link to clip

Published on Mar 4, 2013 —  Harold Saive

http://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/…http://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/…

And finally here’s an updated 2014 Winter forecast, once again ‘blaming that Polar Vortex’ for ‘deciding’ to go meandering somewhere — that we’d rather not see it go.
WRGX; wtvy.com — January 4, 2014

Short Range Forecast Discussion
NWS Weather Prediction Center College Park MD
Valid 12Z Sat Jan 04 2014 – 12Z Mon Jan 06 2014[…]
Forecast models remain consistent in carrying the polar vortex into the northern tier of the U.S. while carrying it eastward in time.

Many locations may see their temperature readings drop to near record values.
[…]

Incredibly, it may feel as cold as -50 to -60 on Sunday night over sections of the north-central states with the frigid air remaining in place into early next week.

As the vortex shifts eastward, the polar air will begin to affect the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley with temperatures plummeting rapidly.

While the air mass will modify, temperatures will remain downright cold with the forecast high in Chicago, IL being only -11 on Monday.

A strong frontal boundary surging eastward ahead of the polar air mass will become rather active as it intercepts increasing amounts of low-level moisture.
[…]

If only those record-melting Arctic ice packs would stay in place and not keep warming up their supposed-to-be Arctic neighborhoods by exposing all that open sea water — then maybe that Arctic Vortex might not have to ‘go wobbling around like a wildly spinning top — losing its fast-track momentum‘ … at such an ever increasing rate.

But then again, Who needs stable Jet Streams anyways?

Certainly not farmers, not foresters, not ranchers;  Certainly not suburban folks who hate all these crazy arctic deep freezes …  the ones who ask, “Why in the world, is it so damn cold, anyways?”

Now hopefully, you can tell them.

Bigger Than That- (The Difficulty Of) Looking At Climate Change In The Age Of Inhuman Scale

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Oldspeak:Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything…. it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and…it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.” –Rebecca Solnit

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die.  I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America.  Now, it’s reality.  The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.” 

When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no?  Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare.  Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible.  There simply was no passage.  No longer.  Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination.  The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.

None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren.  After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet.  And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse.  That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).

If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism”. –Tom

By Rebecca Solnit @ TomsDispatch:

Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world.  The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.

Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.

The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept.

The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.

Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact.  Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size.  If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.

Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another.  And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.

As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier.  They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).

A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.

Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.

Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.

Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).

Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July.  Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.

(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change.  It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)

Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.

Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas — urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”

Column Inches, Glacial Miles

We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way.  We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.

Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.

It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.

Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.

It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.

The Great Wall, Brick by Brick

The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”

There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.

My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.

I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.

I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.

Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.

The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale.  Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.

Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.

To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.

That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.

Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.

If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.

Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.

Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

 

 

Global Warming Rapidly Melting Glaciers = Water Scarcity For 700 Million More People

In Uncategorized on September 26, 2013 at 6:14 pm
Glacier.

A glacier in the Himalayas. (Photo: Karunakar Rayker / Flickr)

Oldspeak: “”The glaciers of the Himalayas are melting so fast they will affect the water supplies of a population twice that of the US within 22 years, the head of the world’s leading authority on climate change has warned.”-Pilita Clark

Contrary to what the front groups funded by the fossil fuel industry would have you believe, climate change doesn’t just mean the winters are milder. Or the plants have more carbon dioxide.

It means that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced, will starve, and will die. It means wars. It means famines. It means raging forest fires and the death of grasslands. It means the acidification of our oceans and the destruction of our ocean ecosystems. It means that we stand on the edge of tipping points that hurtle humanity toward extinction.

Yes, extinction.” -Thom Hartmann

“When you understand that:

85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.”

“783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.”

“6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.”

“Various estimates indicate that, based on business as usual, ~3.5 planets Earth would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American.” –U.N.

And 200 countries agree on the findings of this massive report; this can’t be good. Our civilization is unsustainable. We have to stop and try something else. Before we get stopped for good. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” –OSJ

By Thom Hartmann @ Truthout:

Three quarters of a billion people is a lot of people.

And that’s how many people, within the next 22 years, will almost certainly run low on water – a necessity of life – in just the regions whose rivers are supplied with water from the glaciers in the Himalayas.

To put that in perspective, 750 million people is more than twice the current population of United States. It’s about the population of all of Europe. In the year 1900 there were only 500 million people on the entire planet. Seven hundred fifty million people is a lot of people.

The IPCC – the international body of scientists analyzing global climate change – is releasing its new report in stages over the next week and this early piece was reported on by the Financial Times on Monday. Under the headline “IPCC head warns on Himalayan melting glaciers,” the opening sentence of the article by Pilita Clark summarizes a very tightly:

“The glaciers of the Himalayas are melting so fast they will affect the water supplies of a population twice that of the US within 22 years, the head of the world’s leading authority on climate change has warned.”

And that’s just the Himalayas and the rivers flow out of their glaciers toward South Asian regions including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and China. There are similar glaciers along the mountain ranges of western South America that supply water to other hundreds of millions of people – they are all at risk, too. We’re even seen it here in the United States, with last year’s drought in the West. Glaciers are changing in Europe, and the regions of Tanzania supplied by the famous “Snows Of Kilimanjaro,” are drying up in ways that are creating serious drought problems for the people in those parts of Africa.

Contrary to what the front groups funded by the fossil fuel industry would have you believe, climate change doesn’t just mean the winters are milder. Or the plants have more carbon dioxide.

It means that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced, will starve, and will die. It means wars. It means famines. It means raging forest fires and the death of grasslands. It means the acidification of our oceans and the destruction of our ocean ecosystems. It means that we stand on the edge of tipping points that hurtle humanity toward extinction.

Yes, extinction.

There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, times when more than half of all life died and all the top predators – animals like us – vanished or nearly finished. All of these mass extinctions were provoked by geologically-sudden global warming.

And now we are driving a similar process by burning fossil fuels.

People around the world are already dying from global climate change. Wars are already being fought because of climate change. The Earth is changing before our very eyes.

There are solutions, ranging from a carbon tax to rapid transitions into alternative energy. We need to be pursuing them now.

The debate is long over. The world is waking up.

And the fossil fuel Industry is being shown for what it is – fossils promoting fossils, intellectual frauds and greedheads.

It’s time to move from the energy forms of the 19th century into the modern, clean, nonpolluting energies currently available in the 21st-century. Now.

Hong Kong Braced for ‘Strongest Storm On Earth’ As 180mph Monster Super-Typhoon Usagi Gains Strength Over The Pacific

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2013 at 7:21 pm

https://i2.wp.com/www.dw.de/image/0,,17103730_303,00.jpgOldspeak; “The storm, which is expected to maintain its current strength for at least the next 24 hours, is on course to dump 1000mm of rain (three times the annual London rainfall) on Taiwan over the next three days… According to Quartz one satellite-based estimate ranks the storm as the most powerful on the planet since 1984.” –Rob Williams

“The most powerful storm on earth since 1984… Extreme weather events are increasingly more extreme as the days pass, and ever more frequent. The Great Mother is speaking to us. She’s not happy. We must stop destroying our home before she destroys us. Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick….” –OSJ

By Rob Williams @ The U.K. independent:

A monster Super Typhoon has intensified explosively in the last 24 hours and remains on track to wreak havoc in Taiwan, the Philippines and potentially Hong Kong over the weekend.

Over the last day Super Typhoon Usagi, which is now the strongest storm to form on earth this year, has seen winds increase from 75mph on Tuesday to over 160 mph today. The cyclone is now classified now as a Super Typhoon and is considered the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane.

The storm, which is expected to maintain its current strength for at least the next 24 hours, is on course to dump 1000mm of rain (three times the annual London rainfall) on Taiwan over the next three days. The storm is set to roar between the Philippines and Taiwan before hammering the southern Chinese coast, and possibly Hong Kong, later in the weekend.

Experts have said that due to the lack of ‘hurricane hunter’ aircraft in the Pacific they can’t accurately measure how strong the storm is, and that it may be even stronger.

According to Quartz one satellite-based estimate ranks the storm as the most powerful on the planet since 1984, having a minimum central pressure of 882 millibars.

Typhoon Usagi will first batter coastal Taiwan bringing with it damaging winds, a significant storm surge and heavy and persistent rain, before heading towards Hong Kong.

Peak winds are at that time predicted to have weakened to around 100mph.

The storm is currently estimated to be creating waves as high as about 15 meters (50 feet) as it passes through the Luzon Strait which separates Taiwan and the Philippines.

Usagi is a very large tropical typhoon with a diameter of 1,100 kilometers (680 miles). Its outer rain bands were extending across the main northern Philippine island of Luzon and southern Taiwan and strong winds outward up to 220 kilometers (135 miles).

It is packing the 24-hour rainfall accumulation of 500 millimeters (nearly 20 inches) near the center of the typhoon. Philippine weather bureau forecaster Alvin Pura said that the typhoon had gathered strength and speed with gusts of 240 kph (150 mph).

The Batanes Islands, population 16,000, were placed under the highest storm alert, while lower warnings were raised in at least 15 northern provinces where officials warned of flash floods, landslides and storm surges.

The 1,000-Year Flood: Did Global Warming Worsen Colorado’s Unprecedented Rainfall?

In Uncategorized on September 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

https://i2.wp.com/inserbia.info/news/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/colorado-flood.jpgOldspeak: “I think of this is as sort of perfect storm in the sense that the underlying ecosystem has been damaged by fires. Now, fires are localized compared to this storm, on the order of 20 or 30 or 40 square miles may be affected by a fire. This storm has spread over hundreds of square miles. But, locally, and in the watersheds where the terrain is steep, the ecosystem has been severely damaged. When you drive in the mountains of our state, there are vast patches of dead trees. Scientists still debate whether or not these dead trees might lead to more or fewer fires, but the common wisdom is that they would certainly lead to more fires because they are dead trees. So I feel like those have played a part. Now this storm was so intense and so massive and persisted for so long that we would have still seen incredible destruction even without the fire damage.” –Jim Pullen

Less than a year after Hurricane Sandy; a 700 year storm hundreds of miles across, destroyed large parts of the eastern seaboard of the U.S., historic droughts &  massive wildfires in the American west have severely degraded the ecosystem of the American west.  Last week a massive rainstorm, hundreds of miles across, parked over the state of Colorado and dumped enough rain to generate a 1000 year flood.  Time will tell what kind of contaminants.  Recent news of multiple devastating storms hitting Mexico on both coasts, it’s getting harder and harder to explain the stunning inaction in the face of imminent Global Ecological Collapse. Hundreds of years storms are happening every year. Multiple irreversible feedbacks are in early stages or on the near horizon. Things are getting worse really fast. And very few people in power are talking about it. ” –OSJ

Related Stories:

5 Things You Should Know About Colorado’s ‘1,000 Year Flood’

What We Can Learn From The Deadly Boulder Floods

By Amy Goodman & Nermeen Shaikh @ Democracy Now:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This skies have finally cleared over Colorado after over a week of rain that led to what experts are calling a 1000 year flood. At least 21 inches of rain fell on parts of Boulder in the last week, nearly double the area’s average annual rainfall. At least six people have died in the flooding. More than 1600 homes were destroyed in the region and another 20,000 damaged, along with dozens of bridges, roads, and major sections of highway. Many residents found themselves stranded by the high water. The overall flood zone encompassed 17 Colorado counties in an area nearly the size of Delaware. After a week of devastating floods, Colorado residents now face the threat of contaminated waters. The northeastern part of the state is home to thousands of gas and oil wells that were inundated with rushing water. The Denver business Journal reported at least two storage tanks were found floating in floodwaters, and it says the industry has shut down more than 1000 oil and gas well since the flooding began.

AMY GOODMAN: Colorado is also home to some of the world’s top, researchers, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Earth System Research Laboratory, which were forced to close due to flooding. We go now to Boulder, Colorado, where we’re joined by Jim Pullen a reporter and producer with the community radio station KGNU-FM. He is a geoscientist and physicist and also with us here in New York, Bill McKibben, Co-founder and Director of 350.org, just published his new book this week, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.” Jim, let’s start with you in Boulder. Can you lay out the extent of the devastation in Colorado?

JIM PULLEN: The flood of 1976 and — the big Thompson flood in 1976 and also we’ve had very severe fires over the past several years. But the extent of the storm is unprecedented. And it wasn’t — couldn’t be planned for in Boulder. And in adjacent areas. Now, I’ve lost you folks.

AMY GOODMAN: We can hear you fine, Jim. Talk about the response of the state right now in Colorado.

JIM PULLEN: There’s been a large federal and state response here in Colorado. FEMA is here, of course. Incident management teams are here — two incident management teams are here from the federal government. And Colorado, I think it is particularly well prepared to deal with the emergencies. Here in Boulder County, we have an effective intergovernmental organization that protects both the city and the county. They are well trained because of all of the fires, unfortunately, all of the fires that we have had. And so, there has been a — I would say there’s been a very effective response, and certainly has saved life.

One of the most critical aspects of this entire ordeal has been the air support. Because of our isolated mountain towns and people who are living singly in the mountains in isolated houses, the air support was critical to get people out in a timely fashion. We had some 80 children who were rescued who are participating in an outdoor camp. They were rescued by air. The entire town of Jamestown, about 175 folks and about as many animals, rescued by air. The town of Lyons completely evacuated, except for a few folks who voluntarily chose to stay. They were rescued primarily by ground vehicles. So, the National Guard response here was critical.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Jim Pullen, can you tell us if Colorado is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events like the one we just witnessed?

JIM PULLEN: We have been having some extreme droughts for quite a few years now. I think some parts of the state are still in drought. We are accustomed to intense thunderstorms, of course, that might rain on a single valley, that might rain on a single mountain, and cause flash flooding that can be devastating and deadly. So, we have been experiencing some extreme weather.

AMY GOODMAN: And that issue of climate change, can you talk about, for example, also the pine beetle, how it has devastated millions of acres, making them weaker? Then you have the forest fires, then less ability to maintain water in the soil with the trees not there and then you have flooding like this that intensifies the devastation.

JIM PULLEN: I think of this is as sort of a perfect storm in the sense that the underlying ecosystem has been damaged by fires. Now, fires are localized compared to this storm, on the order of 20 or 30 or 40 square miles may be affected by a fire. This storm has spread over hundreds of square miles. But, locally, and in the watersheds where the terrain is steep, the ecosystem has been severely damaged.

When you drive in the mountains of our state, there are vast patches of dead trees. Scientists still debate whether or not these dead trees might lead to more or fewer fires, but the common wisdom is that they would certainly lead to more fires because they are dead trees. So I feel like those have played a part. Now this storm was so intense and so massive and persisted for so long that we would have still seen incredible destruction even without the fire damage, even without the pine beetle damage.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And when do you expect to learn, Jim Pullen, of the extent of the environmental contamination as a result of these floods?

JIM PULLEN: That, I think that is going to take some weeks, very unfortunately. There are two things going on — well there are several things that are going on that are of incredible concern. Of course, in any flood event, there are going to be a lot of contaminants in the water. There are going to be dead animals, there are going to be — there are oil stations — gasoline stations that have been inundated. People’s homes have been inundated, and people keep a lot of chemicals in their homes that are under relatively low protection.

We have some very serious issues here in the state of Colorado in addition to those normal flooding issues. We have the Rocky Flats plant, or what was once upon a time the Rocky Flats Plant where plutonium is underground. And there has been extensive flooding in that area. And we also have tens of thousands of active oil and gas wells in the state, 20,000 alone in Weld County. The industry — a lobbying group is reporting 1900 of those oil and gas wells have been shut down, and including the two largest suppliers, Noble Energy and Anadarko are reporting about five to ten percent of their wells have been shut down.

For example, Noble Energy owns 7600 wells in Weld County itself, which is right to the northeast of us. So, there are a lot of contaminants potentially floating around. And in the case of Rocky Flats, I spoke with a Christine Everson last night and she said it is going to take weeks for laboratory results of plutonium and other contaminants to become available to the public.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the governor of Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper. When we were covering the Copenhagen UN Climate Change Summit, he was one of the few governors who attended that summit in Copenhagen. He was there to participate in a discussion on the role of public transportation in reducing carbon emissions. That year he had won a 2009 mayors climate protection award for a large city. This is what he had to say about global warming.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: I think what the real key is, we know that climate change is occurring. Everyone knows that. We know it’s dramatic, we know that man kind is the likely — the vast majority of is a result of our actions. So, we need to address it and move quickly. I think when you start trying to break down which part of the climate disruption is the consequence in which pollution images or who is responsible, that is when we get into trouble. I was certainly — dramatically, that we need billion of dollars.

AMY GOODMAN: That was, well, now Governor Hickenlooper, at the time he was the Mayor of Denver. So, he is rare in continually bringing up the issue of climate change. But, Jim Pullen, if you can talk about how that relates to fracking and the issues that you are raising right now?

JIM PULLEN: Well, you know, famously, the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, engaged in sort of a stunt with the oil industry where he drank some fracking fluid to sort of demonstrate that it is safe. Many feel that the governor is not acting in the best interest of the people of this state to protect their health and safety. The state itself — the state attorney general’s office has joined in lawsuits against the city of Longmont, our neighbor to the north, which has suffered tremendous devastation in this flood, he has enjoined in a lawsuit against the city of Longmont further voter approved ban against oil and gas fracking in the city itself. And so many people are very, very disappointed in the Governor and his approach to the oil and gas industry.

AMY GOODMAN: But how has it played out now with these massive floods?

JIM PULLEN: Well, I was at a press conference with the Governor. He came with our two state senators and three of our representatives just a couple of days ago. He flew into the municipal airport here, and he spoke about rebuilding Colorado better than ever. He spoke about Coloradans being strong. It was sort of a political speech. He actually had been on a rescue mission that morning, as they were flying to the airport, they saw people down below waving flags and they stopped to rescue those folks. That’s just how — there were a lot of people stranded here.

So, he certainly — I think Colorado in general is drawing together. And I think that is a strength of our state. We had people in Jamestown who have lost their town, essentially, have completely lost it. I know there’s a tremendous concern on their part that they get their town back as soon as possible. And I believe and hope that Coloradans, including our politicians, are going to pull together to make that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, we wanted to bring Bill McKibben in on this subject of what is happening in Colorado. Bill, you’re from Vermont. I know Vermont officials have gone to Colorado to consult with the state government because you all in Vermont had the devastation of Hurricane Irene. Can you talk about these hurricanes and climate change?

BILL MCKIBBEN: What is going on in Colorado is so ironic. Boulder, where Jim is talking from, is the headquarters of climate research, really for the whole world, The National Center for Atmospheric Research. A year ago it was evacuated because of fast-moving forest fires in the middle of this intense drought. This year it is evacuated because of the worst flooding. You can’t believe how off the charts that rainfall is. We’re in mid-September, Boulder has already passed its all-time annual rainfall record with months and months to go in the year.

The volume of water is only possible because we’ve changed the atmosphere. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold. There are these tails of moisture coming up from the South in places where they have never been before. It is eerie he to watch, and the recovery. You know, everybody’s got a shot of adrenaline for a few days while people are being rescued and things. If the Vermont example is any indication, then you have to dig in for long, hard work for years to come in order to get back just to where you were before. We just can’t keep doing this. We have actually got to get a handle on global warming before this gets any further out of hand.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet with all of the limitless coverage — as it should be — of what is going on in Colorado, I haven’t seen it all, so I can’t say has not been a mentioned, but in all of the networks, I have not seen one mention of climate change.

BILL MCKIBBEN: Well, that’s, you know, because at the moment, there is this immediate, tense problem right in front of you. But, the underlying one is the one we tend to ignore. I don’t think we are ignoring it completely anymore. We are on the mainstream media, but that just goes to show. What is happening is the volume of these events has gotten so great — I mean, think about what is happening one mountain range further west. California is in the middle of its driest year ever, and we’ve just had the largest forest fire in the history of the Sierra, burning straight across the land were John Muir invented the modern environmental movement in the high Sierra. I mean, it is just one irony piled on top of another.

And the polling data indicates that Americans are getting it, that two thirds, three quarters of Americans are now concerned about global warming. Their leaders aren’t concerned because, well, to give governor Hickenlooper’s example, they’re awfully deep in bed with the oil and gas industry. Now all Coloradans, or many of them, are going to get to drink fracking fluids, too, you know. It is not quite as funny as when he was doing it as a stunt.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion. Jim, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Jim Pullen, reporter at KGNU-FM, which broadcasts on AM and FM, community radio in Boulder and greater Denver. Bill McKibben will stay with us as we talk to him about the latest climate change struggles around the Keystone XL and his new book that is out this week, called “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.” Stay with us.

“We do not like what we see. We do not like it at all.” Leading Climate Scientists Find Disturbing New Evidence Of Massive Arctic Methane Release

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm

https://i2.wp.com/www.finestdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/gazmetan-640x373.jpg

Oldspeak: “The most catastrophically dangerous methane source is Arctic sea floor methane hydrate… The largest source is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), the largest continental shelf in the world… All the evidence indicates that an abrupt massive release of methane gas from Arctic hydrates could happen which most likely would be catastrophe to the global climate and our planet.  “Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so the climatic implications of adding more of it to the atmosphere are grave. A massive methane release could also affect the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself.” Science (the world’s leading journal of original scientific research) carries an article by scientists that describes the methane situation: Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic are, “… the highest in 400,000 years… on par with previous estimates of methane venting from the entire World Oceans… Regarding recent observations of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by Russian scientists, where, until now, it was thought the permafrost was cold enough to remain frozen, the recent observations found the methane venting into the atmosphere from this one region comparable to the amount of methane coming out of the entire world’s oceans” –Robert Hunziker

Amidst all the frantic politically and economically motivated hand wringing, saber-rattling and negotiations over Syria’s possession of chemical weapons, we’re all bearing witness to a globally catastrophic chemical release exponentially more devastating and destructive to the entire biosphere. Arctic sea floor methane hydrate, is beginning to steadily and increasingly release from what was previously known as “permafrost”. The planet’s climate is warming so extremely that ice thought to be permanently frozen is melting. Aside from methane hydrates, “warming in the Arctic is causing the release of toxic chemicals long trapped in the region’s snow, ice, ocean and soil… a wide range of Persistent Organic Pollutants have been remobilized into the Arctic atmosphere over the past two decades as a result of climate change, confirming that Arctic warming could undermine global efforts to reduce environmental and human exposure to these toxic chemical”. SO not only our are leaders pushing for actions that will require a significant increase in the extraction & burning of chemicals that will accelerate the onset of runaway irreversible climate change, very few are putting forth any policy to address this imminent global ecological disaster that will affect all life on this planet. For some reason all focus is on what’s going on in a country embroiled in a civil/proxy war and not on the ominous sequence of events leading up to fundamental and irreversible changes in life as we know it.  This will not end well.” –OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

How real, and imminent, is the danger of runaway global warming?

“Without stopping it, sooner, or later, one way or another, the loss of Arctic summer sea ice would lead to runaway global warming,” says Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG).

For runaway global warming to develop into an unstoppable worldwide disaster, first off a tipping point must occur. A tipping point is when there is no turning back, similar to the Titanic hitting the iceberg one hundred years ago.

The Tipping Point

As for the risk of a climatic tipping point event within current lifetimes, first-rate advice comes from Peter Wadhams (Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge).

Here’s why Prof Wadhams’ advice is so keenly followed: Over the past 40 years, Dr. Wadhams has led 40 research trips to the poles, including 7 trips on nuclear submarines, conducting sonar readings (to accurately measure ice thickness), in order to study, analyze, and interpret the behaviour of sea ice. As such, he doesn’t rely upon scientific models; rather, he believes in “boots-on-the-ground” as the most thorough way to understand what is happening in nature.

Here is what Prof Wadhams says about a climatic tipping point, as expressed in the Abstract version of the article “Arctic Ice Cover, Ice Thickness and Tipping Points,”1: “We show results from some recent work from submarines, and speculate that the trend towards retreat and thinning will inevitably lead to an eventual loss of all ice in summer, which can be described as a ‘tipping point’ in that the former situation, of an Arctic covered with mainly multi-year ice, cannot be retrieved.”

In other words, Prof Wadhams’ tipping point appears to be when the Arctic is ice free, which he believes will occur around the year 2015. This, in turn, implies a runaway heating up of Earth over an indeterminate period of time because of positive feedback between an ice-less Arctic, thawing permafrost and melting hydrates (methane locked in ice) emitting increasingly massive quantities of methane into the atmosphere, or to put it another way, runaway global warming.

But, nobody can possibly know the timing of the sequence of events leading up to runaway global warming, nor, for sure, whether it will happen as expected; it could be better, or it could be worse than expectations. But, whichever result, it’s not good.

The Tipping Point Controversy

Though, there are respectable scientists at odds with Prof Wadhams, for example: A new paper, “Reducing Spread in Climate Model Projections of a September Ice-Free Arctic,”2 claims that the Arctic will be ice-free in September by around 2054-58, which is certainly a long way off from Prof Wadhams’ 2015 deadline.

In response to the PNAS paper, Prof Wadhams claims their projection departs significantly from his empirical observations of the rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and here is how they differ: They use “scientific models,” i.e. computers; he uses “empirical evidence,” or boots-on-the-ground.

Along those lines, Prof Wadhams says, “The modelers did not pay sufficient regard to observation, especially of ice thickness… A very great physicist, Richard Feynmann, said that when a model comes up against measurements that contradict it, it is the measurements that must be preferred and the model must be abandoned or changed.”3

If Prof Wadhams is correct, the earthly consequences, over an indeterminate period of time, will most likely be:

  1. Sea levels will rise – probably a lot… for example, one-day Miami will be under water.
  2. Atmospheric jet stream displacement, because of a rapidly warming Arctic, will force ultra extreme weather events (this is already happening), especially in the Northern Hemisphere.
  3. Resulting in – catastrophic flooding, e.g. Central Europe 2013
  4. And, resulting in – severe droughts, e.g., China (2011- worst in 50 years & 2013), U.S. (2012- worst in 50 years), Russia (2010- worst in 50 years & 2012), Syria (2006-11- worst in history of Fertile Crescent), and on and on.
  5. Which equate to- decreased food production
  6. Leading to food riots, leading to political turmoil, leading to war

And, sooner or later, it is highly probable the geopolitical scene will witness hordes of people assembled in caravans (like the dystopian film Mad Max, Warner Bros. 1979) combing the planet in search of food and water and/or warlike behavior similar to the Huns, a nomadic people who ravaged and plundered Roman provinces in the 3rd & 4th centuries.

As such, personal wealth will be meaningless in this dystopian world overshadowed by hordes of desperate people as they crush totalitarian, and democratic, governments around the world, similar to how the almighty Roman army fell in the 3rd and 4th centuries to the hordes of Vandals and Huns in province after province after province.

Barrow, Alaska Observatory – Monitoring Methane

Barrow, Alaska is the furthest northern point in North America; it’s where the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea meet, and it is at Point Barrow, the Barrow, Alaska Observatory (“BRW”), est. in 1973, where scientists at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Division keep a watchful eye on methane levels in the atmosphere. This is one of five methane-monitoring locations around the world.

According to R. Gates,4 “What’s worrisome to those who follow methane is the return to higher growth rates over the past few years… This is significant because it shows the underlying long-term growth rate. If you compare this year’s low point to last year’s, you get a sense of the upward turn in the atmospheric methane concentrations. The bottom line is: The trends should be of great concern.”

Methane (“CH4”) is already at unprecedented levels, since 646,000 BC:

Ice core records show global atmospheric conditions going back millions of years, but just since 646,000 BC global atmospheric concentrations of methane appear relatively subdued, and the atmospheric level varied within a couple hundred points of 500ppb.

Conversely, it has only taken a couple hundred years to break that 646,000-year trend. Nowadays, the CH4 level is at least 3xs higher @ 1750-1800ppb.5

Repercussions of Elevated Levels of Methane

Large releases of methane have occurred many times in the past and did not result in runaway global warming. Here is why: (a) in the past the trend was very gradual, over hundreds-to-thousands of years, allowing for a natural breakdown of the CH4 over time; whereas, as of today, we’ve already made a 3-fold move in only 200 years, and emissions are only now starting to increase in a serious way; as well, in the past, (b) when high CH4 levels trapped a lot of heat, the heat was counter-balanced by large buffers of ice that consumed the heat to prevent runaway temperature rises.6

Withal, conditions today are different because there are no huge Pleistocene glaciers to cool the Arctic Ocean if methane goes into overdrive this time around. In the Pleistocene Era, the Laurentide Ice Sheet alone was equivalent of twenty-five (25) Greenland ice sheets. This buffer to unchecked runaway global warming no longer exists.6

Therefore, as of today, Mother Earth has set the stage for runaway global warming without the checks-and-balances previously provided by nature.

Current Levels of Methane

Some of the world’s most accomplished climate scientists, similar to Prof Wadhams, have spent considerable time studying methane emissions with boots-on-the-ground in the Arctic.

Science (the world’s leading journal of original scientific research) carries an article by scientists7 that describes the methane situation: Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic are, “… the highest in 400,000 years… on par with previous estimates of methane venting from the entire World Ocean,” which is an incredible statement!

The previous statement is startling enough that it deserves to be repeated in a new context, as follows: Regarding recent observations of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by Russian scientists, where, until now, it was thought the permafrost was cold enough to remain frozen, the recent observations found the methane venting into the atmosphere from this one region comparable to the amount of methane coming out of the entire world’s oceans.

Furthermore, in a recent live interview, Dr. Natalia Shakhova, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Arctic methane release, ended by saying, “We do not like what we see. We do not like it at all.”

“There are three huge reservoirs of Arctic methane till recently safely controlled by the Arctic freezing cold environment. They are now all releasing additional methane to the atmosphere as the Arctic rapidly warms.”8

And furthermore, “The most catastrophically dangerous methane source is Arctic sea floor methane hydrate… The largest source is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), the largest continental shelf in the world… All the evidence indicates that an abrupt massive release of methane gas from Arctic hydrates could happen which most likely would be catastrophe to the global climate and our planet.”8

The Risks

According to the article “Methane, Good Gas, Bad Gas”9: “Burn natural gas and it warms your house. But let it leak, from fracked wells or the melting Arctic, and it warms the whole planet.”

“Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so the climatic implications of adding more of it to the atmosphere are grave. A massive methane release could also affect the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself,” according to Arlene Fiore, a physical scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There is absolutely no doubt that Arctic sea ice is getting thinner, melting, and rupturing. For example, the largest single block of ice in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, which has been around for over 3,000 years started cracking in the year 2000. Within two years it had split all the way through and is now broken into pieces.

The biggest worry, according to Dr. Ronald Prinn, TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science/MIT, in a lecture series entitled: “Arctic Warming: Risks for Methane Emissions (Aug. 2012)”: “… the polar regions, which are warming much faster than expected… if the ice goes, expect massive sea level rise.”10

In like manner, the most recent Arctic News is not comforting.11:
1) The Siberian permafrost is in particular danger. A large region called the Yedoma could undergo runaway decomposition once it starts to melt.
2) Global climates only slightly warmer than today are sufficient to thaw extensive regions of permafrost.
3) Evidence of melting of permafrost has also been reported form the dry valleys of Antarctica… reaching a rate about 10 times that of the last ~ 10,000 years.
4) Already, measurements along the Siberian shelf have discovered enhanced methane release… a Russian marine survey conducted more than 5,000 observations of dissolved methane showing that more than 80% of East Siberian shelf bottom waters and more than 50% of surface waters are supersaturated with methane.

The Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev, surveying 10,000 square miles of sea off the coast of eastern Siberia, made a terrifying discovery of “fountains” of methane one-half mile across erupting from Arctic sea ice, coming to surface like a boiling pot of water on a stovetop. The research team located more than 100 fountains, and they believe there could be thousands. These are methane fields on a scale never before seen by scientists. The resulting problem is multi-fold, in part, because methane releases from the seas can be larger, and much more abrupt, than land-based releases.

A Problem – Understanding and Believing

One major problem with trying to understand the potential of a methane outbreak is the false sense of security that “this really can’t happen.”

Yet, what if these scientists have got it right?

Then, what?

The future grows dim.

As a matter of assurance of survival, why not give the scientists the benefit of doubt and do what they suggest, which is remove CO2 emissions as much as possible by getting off fossil fuels?

As it goes, a worldwide conversion from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable sources of energy like solar and wind and tides and geothermal and biofuels would likely prompt an economic renaissance, with full employment, equivalent to the impressive secular economic growth cycle prompted by the invention of the Ford Model T.

And, such a worldwide conversion to renewable energy would rescue civilization, as we know it. In that event, the world’s ruling order of unparalleled wealth won’t have to worry about massive invasions by hordes of desperate people, similar to what the Roman Governors of the Provinces of the Empire experienced in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Post Script:
On a positive note, a student movement at more than 300 university and college campuses is encouraging endowments to divest holdings of fossil fuel companies. As for one example, Divest Harvard says: “By sponsoring climate change through our investments, our university is threatening our generation’s future.”12

  1. AMBIO (Publisher: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), February 2012, Volume 41, Issue 1 []
  2. By Professor Jiping Liu, Dept. of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, UAlbany, Spring-2013, Phys.org in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences []
  3. Ice-free Arctic in two Years Heralds Methane Catastrophe – Scientist by Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian, July 24, 2013. []
  4. Arctic Atmospheric Methane Trends, 2013, Arctic Sea Ice Blog, July 2013. []
  5. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. []
  6. Source: “Mean Methane Levels Reach 1800 ppb,” Arctic News, June 28, 2013. [] []
  7. “Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from Sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf,” Natalia Shakhova (International Arctic Research Centre, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK), Igor Semiletov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern Branch, Pacific Oceanological Institute, Vladivostok, Russia), et al, Science, 327(5970), March 5, 2010. []
  8. Arctic Methane, Arctic Methane Emergency Group. [] []
  9. Marianne Lavelle, National Geographic, December 2012 []
  10. Source: Global Warming Puts the Arctic on Thin Ice,” Natural Resources Defense Council, Aug. 2012. []
  11. Andrew Glikson (Honorary Professor, Geothermal Energy Centre of Excellence, The University of Queensland), “Methane and the Risk of Runaway Global Warming,” Arctic News, July 26, 2013. []
  12. Randall Smith, A New Divestment Focus on Campus: Fossil Fuels, New York Times, Sept. 6, 2013. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

Never Again Enough: Goodbye To All That Water; Confronting The New Normal In A Drying American West

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2013 at 5:45 pm

https://i0.wp.com/azbex.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Colrado-River.jpgOldspeak: “The bottom line… is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around. If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.” –William deBuys

“The resource shock that trumps all other resource shocks is already happening. People are right now in a America fighting via litigation for rapidly dwindling water resources. There’s not enough water for everybody. When farmers go out of business as a result of water shortages, there won’t be enough food for everyone. Coupled with the incomprehensible and probably vastly underestimated predicted costs of climate change (60 TRILLION, 10 trillion short of Global GDP), we can expect there won’t be enough food for significantly more than the 1 in 7 of humans who are currently (and needlessly) going without food. At some point, litigation will give way to actual physical violence over vanishing resources in the supposed “greatest country in the world”  Then what? You can’t beat physics.”  –OSJ

“Martha and the Vandellas would have loved it.  Metaphorically speaking, the New York Times practically swooned over it.  (“An unforgiving heat wave held much of the West in a sweltering embrace over the weekend, tying or breaking temperature records in several cities, grounding flights, sparking forest fires, and contributing to deaths.”) It was a “deadly” heat wave, a “record” one that, in headlines everywhere, left the West and later the rest of the country “sweltering,” and that was, again in multiple headlines, “scary.”  The fire season that accompanied the “blasting,” “blazing” heat had its own set of “record” headlines — and all of this was increasingly seen, in another set of headlines, as the “new normal” in the West. Given that 2012 had already set a heat record for the continental U.S., that the 10 hottest years on record in this country have all occurred since 1997, and that the East had its own sweltering version of heat that wouldn’t leave town, this should have been beyond arresting.

In response, the nightly primetime news came up with its own convenient set of new terms to describe all this: “extreme” or “severe” heat.  Like “extreme” or “severe” weather, these captured the eyeball-gluing sensationalism of our weather moment without having to mention climate change or global warming.  Weather, after all, shouldn’t be “politicized.”  But if you’re out in the middle of the parching West like TomDispatch regular William deBuys, who recently headed down the Colorado River, certain grim realities about the planet we’re planning to hand over to our children and grandchildren can’t help but come to mind — along with a feeling, increasingly shared by those in the sweltering cities, that our particular way of life is in the long run unsustainable.” –Tom

By William deBuys @ Tomsdispatch

Several miles from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona, April 2013 — Down here, at the bottom of the continent’s most spectacular canyon, the Colorado River growls past our sandy beach in a wet monotone. Our group of 24 is one week into a 225-mile, 18-day voyage on inflatable rafts from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. We settle in for the night. Above us, the canyon walls part like a pair of maloccluded jaws, and moonlight streams between them, bright enough to read by.

One remarkable feature of the modern Colorado, the great whitewater rollercoaster that carved the Grand Canyon, is that it is a tidal river. Before heading for our sleeping bags, we need to retie our six boats to allow for the ebb.

These days, the tides of the Colorado are not lunar but Phoenician. Yes, I’m talking about Phoenix, Arizona.  On this April night, when the air conditioners in America’s least sustainable city merely hum, Glen Canyon Dam, immediately upstream from the canyon, will run about 6,500 cubic feet of water through its turbines every second.

Tomorrow, as the sun begins its daily broiling of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and the rest of central Arizona, the engineers at Glen Canyon will crank the dam’s maw wider until it sucks down 11,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). That boost in flow will enable its hydroelectric generators to deliver “peaking power” to several million air conditioners and cooling plants in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun. And the flow of the river will therefore nearly double.

It takes time for these dam-controlled tidal pulses to travel downstream. Where we are now, just above Zoroaster Rapid, the river is roughly in phase with the dam: low at night, high in the daytime. Head a few days down the river and it will be the reverse.

By mid-summer, temperatures in Phoenix will routinely soar above 110°F, and power demands will rise to monstrous heights, day and night. The dam will respond: 10,000 cfs will gush through the generators by the light of the moon, 18,000 while an implacable sun rules the sky.

Such are the cycles — driven by heat, comfort, and human necessity — of the river at the bottom of the continent’s grandest canyon.

The crucial question for Phoenix, for the Colorado, and for the greater part of the American West is this: How long will the water hold out?

Major Powell’s Main Point

Every trip down the river — and there are more than 1,000 like ours yearly — partly reenacts the legendary descent of the Colorado by the one-armed explorer and Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell. The Major, as he preferred to be known, plunged into the Great Unknown with 10 companions in 1869. They started out in four boats from Green River, Wyoming, but one of the men walked out early after nearly drowning in the stretch of whitewater that Powell named Disaster Falls, and three died in the desert after the expedition fractured in its final miles. That left Powell and six others to reach the Mormon settlements on the Virgin River in the vicinity of present-day Las Vegas, Nevada.

Powell’s exploits on the Colorado brought him fame and celebrity, which he parlayed into a career that turned out to be controversial and illustrious in equal measure. As geologist, geographer, and ethnologist, Powell became one of the nation’s most influential scientists. He also excelled as an institution-builder, bureaucrat, political in-fighter, and national scold.

Most famously, and in bold opposition to the boomers and boosters then cheerleading America’s westward migration, he warned that the defining characteristic of western lands was their aridity. Settlement of the West, he wrote, would have to respect the limits aridity imposed.

He was half right.

The subsequent story of the West can indeed be read as an unending duel between society’s thirst and the dryness of the land, but in downtown Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles you’d hardly know it.

By the middle years of the twentieth century, western Americans had created a kind of miracle in the desert, successfully conjuring abundance from Powell’s aridity. Thanks to reservoirs large and small, and scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, as well as more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels, and diversions, the West has by now been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered. It has been given the plumbing system of a giant water-delivery machine, and in the process, its liquid resources have been stretched far beyond anything the Major might have imagined.

Today the Colorado River, the most fully harnessed of the West’s great waterways, provides water to some 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland. It also touches 22 Indian reservations, seven National Wildlife Reservations, and at least 15 units of the National Park System, including the Grand Canyon.

These achievements come at a cost. The Colorado River no longer flows to the sea, and down here in the bowels of the canyon, its diminishment is everywhere in evidence. In many places, the riverbanks wear a tutu of tamarisk trees along their edge. They have been able to dress up, now that the river, constrained from major flooding, no longer rips their clothes off.

The daily hydroelectric tides gradually wash away the sandbars and beaches that natural floods used to build with the river’s silt and bed load (the sands and gravels that roll along its bottom). Nowadays, nearly all that cargo is trapped in Lake Powell, the enormous reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam. The water the dam releases is clear and cold (drawn from the depths of the lake), which is just the thing for nonnative trout, but bad news for homegrown chubs and suckers, which evolved, quite literally, in the murk of ages past. Some of the canyon’s native fish species have been extirpated from the canyon; others cling to life by a thread, helped by the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In the last few days, we’ve seen more fisheries biologists along the river and its side-streams than we have tourists.

The Shrinking Cornucopia

In the arid lands of the American West, abundance has a troublesome way of leading back again to scarcity. If you have a lot of something, you find a way to use it up — at least, that’s the history of the “development” of the Colorado Basin.

Until now, the ever-more-complex water delivery systems of that basin have managed to meet the escalating needs of their users. This is true in part because the states of the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico) were slower to develop than their downstream cousins. Under the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Upper and Lower Basins divided the river with the Upper Basin assuring the Lower of an average of 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water per year delivered to Lees Ferry Arizona, the dividing point between the two. The Upper Basin would use the rest. Until recently, however, it left a large share of its water in the river, which California, and secondarily Arizona and Nevada, happily put to use.

Those days are gone.  The Lower Basin states now get only their annual entitlement and no more. Unfortunately for them, it’s not enough, and never will be.

Currently, the Lower Basin lives beyond its means — to the tune of about 1.3 maf per year, essentially consuming 117% of its allocation.

That 1.3 maf overage consists of evaporation, system losses, and the Lower Basin’s share of the annual U.S. obligation to Mexico of 1.5 maf. As it happens, the region budgets for none of these “costs” of doing business, and if pressed, some of its leaders will argue that the Mexican treaty is actually a federal responsibility, toward which the Lower Basin need not contribute water.

The Lower Basin funds its deficit by drawing on the accumulated water surplus held in the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, which backs up behind Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, with the Lower Basin using more water than it receives, the surplus there can’t last forever, and maybe not for long. In November 2010, the water level of the lake fell to its lowest elevation ever — 1,082 feet above sea level, a foot lower than its previous nadir during the fierce drought of the 1950s.

Had the dry weather held — and increasing doses of such weather are predicted for the region in the future — the reservoir would have soon fallen another seven feet and triggered the threshold for mandatory (but inadequate) cutbacks in water delivery to the Lower Basin states. Instead, heavy snowfall in the northern Rockies bailed out the system by producing a mighty runoff, lifting the reservoir a whopping 52 feet.

Since then, however, weather throughout the Colorado Basin has been relentlessly dry, and the lake has resumed its precipitous fall. It now stands at 1,106 feet, which translates to roughly 47% of capacity.  Lake Powell, Mead’s alter ego, is in about the same condition.

Another dry year or two, and the Colorado system will be back where it was in 2010, staring down a crisis.  There is, however, a consolation — of sorts.  The Colorado is nowhere near as badly off as New Mexico and the Rio Grande.

How Dry I Am This Side of the Pecos

In May, New Mexico marked the close of the driest two-year period in the 120 years since records began to be kept. Its largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, which stores water from the Rio Grande, is effectively dry.

Meanwhile, parched Texas has filed suit against New Mexico in multiple jurisdictions, including the Supreme Court, to force the state to send more water downstream — water it doesn’t have. Texas has already appropriated $5 million to litigate the matter.  If it wins, the hit taken by agriculture in south-central New Mexico could be disastrous.

In eastern New Mexico, the woes of the Pecos River mirror those of the Rio Grande and pit the Pecos basin’s two largest cities, Carlsbad and Roswell, directly against each other. These days, the only thing moving in the irrigation canals of the Carlsbad Irrigation District is dust. The canals are bone dry because upstream groundwater pumping in the Roswell area has deprived the Pecos River of its flow. By pumping heavily from wells that tap the aquifer under the Pecos River, Roswell’s farmers have drawn off water that might otherwise find its way to the surface and flow downstream.

Carlsbad’s water rights are senior to (that is, older than) Roswell’s, so in theory — under the doctrine of Prior Appropriation — Carlsbad is entitled to the water Roswell is using. The dispute pits Carlsbad’s substantial agricultural economy against Roswell’s, which is twice as big. The bottom line, as with Texas’s lawsuit over the Rio Grande, is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around.

If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.

Put on Your Rain-Dancing Shoes

New Mexico’s present struggles, difficult as they may be, will look small-scale indeed when compared to what will eventually befall the Colorado. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects the river’s 40 million water-users to grow to between 49.3 and 76.5 million by 2060. This translates into a thirst for Colorado River water of 18.1 to 20.4 maf — oceans more than its historical yield of 16.4 maf.

And that’s not even the bad news, which is that, compared to the long-term paleo-record, the historical average, compiled since the late nineteenth century, is aberrantly high. Moreover, climate change will undoubtedly take its toll, and perhaps has already begun to do so. One recent study forecasts that the yield of the Colorado will decline 10% by about 2030, and it will keep falling after that.

None of the available remedies inspires much confidence. “Augmentation” — diverting water from another basin into the Colorado system — is politically, if not economically, infeasible. Desalination, which can be effective in specific, local situations, is too expensive and energy-consuming to slake much of the Southwest’s thirst. Weather modification, aka rain-making, isn’t much more effective today than it was in 1956 when Burt Lancaster starred as a water-witching con man in The Rainmaker, and vegetation management (so that trees and brush will consume less water) is a non-starter when climate change and epidemic fires are already reworking the landscape.

Undoubtedly, there will be small successes squeezing water from unlikely sources here and there, but the surest prospect for the West?  That a bumper harvest of lawsuits is approaching. Water lawyers in the region can look forward to full employment for decades to come. Their clients will include irrigation farmers, thirsty cities, and power companies that need water to cool their thermal generators and to drive their hydroelectric generators.

Count on it: the recreation industry, which demands water for boating and other sports, will be filing its briefs, too, as will environmental groups struggling to prevent endangered species and whole ecosystems from blinking out. The people of the West will not only watch them; they — or rather, we — will all in one way or another be among them as they gather before various courts in the legal equivalent of circular firing squads.

Hey, Mister, What’s that Sound?

Here at the bottom of Grand Canyon, with the river rushing by, we listen for the boom of the downstream rapids toward which we are headed. Sometimes they sound like a far-off naval bombardment, sometimes more like the roar of an oncoming freight train, which is entirely appropriate. After all, the river, like a railroad, is a delivery system with a valuable cargo. Think of it as a stream of liquid property, every pint within it already spoken for, every drop owned by someone and obligated somewhere, according to a labyrinth of potentially conflicting contracts.

The owners of those contracts know now that the river can’t supply enough gallons, pints, and drops to satisfy everybody, and so they are bound to live the truth of the old western saying: “Whiskey’s for drinkin’, and water’s for fightin’.”

In the end, Powell was right about at least one thing: aridity bats last.

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, irrigates a small farm in northern New Mexico and is the author of seven books including, most recently, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.

The Sleeping Climate Giant: Scientists Warn Of Irreversable Extreme Weather, Starvation, Riots, & War

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm

https://i1.wp.com/switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlashof/Arctic-sea-ice-2012-3000x1800-nointtext.jpgOldspeak:”Governments must put two and two together, and pull out all stops to save the Arctic sea ice or we will starve. The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is causing a disruption of jet stream behavior, which, in turn, produces weather extremes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. According to AMEG, the UK government was warned about, and given evidence, that the weather extremes experienced in the Northern Hemisphere are due to jet stream disruptions because of Arctic warming relative to the tropics. The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.” –Arctic Methane Emergency Group

“The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at levels not seen since the Pliocene era, 3 million years ago, before humans walked the earth.  Large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide are rapidly filling the atmosphere, as a result of rapid melting of polar ice caps. Seems to be irreversible at this point.  This is the problem that with drive all other problems on this planet for thousands of years. Drought is global, food production is declining, with food riots are already reality in the global south. While global elites aggressively poison our water supplies profiting from drilling for toxic energy like oil, coal, natural gas & radioactive materials, those same activities will contribute to the destruction of our food supplies. Where are the nationwide marches to demand action on this? Indigenous peoples are on the case, they know what’s at stake. We need to get activated about the most dire threats to our existence, like yesterday. There’s no time to waste.” –OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Scientific evidence is compelling that something big is brewing up north in the Arctic, “the sleeping climate giant.” As follows, when this sleeping giant awakens, life may never be the same. Unfortunately, its long slumber is now coming back to life, and the scientists studying this event are deeply concerned.

The danger involves an Arctic meltdown, and, as this sleeping giant awakens, it will prompt events that will likely cause significant disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and global war as worldwide food production is seriously impaired. Some leading scientists refer to this impending event as a prescription for “starvation.”

A five-year NASA campaign called CARVE (Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment) is currently in its third-year of analyzing the emissions of greenhouse gases in the Arctic, led by Charles Miller, principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, California. This team of researchers includes two-dozen scientists from twelve major institutions, like Langley Research Center.

From a base in Fairbanks, Alaska the team travel in a C-23 Sherpa aircraft up to eight hours daily at an altitude of 500 feet, which is categorized as flying “down in the mud.” By flying dangerously low, they are able to take measurements not previously possible, and they use very sophisticated instruments, as for one example, a very sensitive spectrometer, to “sniff” the atmosphere for greenhouse gases. The samples are shipped to the University of Colorado’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research Stable Isotope Laboratory and Radiocarbon Laboratory in Boulder to determine whether the gases are from thawing permafrost.

According to Miller, based upon analyses of the first full year of studies, what they are finding is both amazing and potentially troubling: “Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest.”1 “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze.”

CARVE hopes to find clues that will indicate whether an irreversible permafrost tipping point may be near at hand. In general, scientists do not believe the Arctic has reached a tipping point just yet, but no one knows for sure. “We hope CARVE may be able to find that ‘smoking gun,’ if one exists,” says Miller.

World Food Production at Risk

In addition to CARVE’s 5-year on-going investigation of the Arctic, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (“AMEG”), a hard-core group of the world’s most esteemed climate scientists, have sounded the alarm about the dangers of an Arctic meltdown. An announcement on their web site claims: “Governments must put two and two together, and pull out all stops to save the Arctic sea ice or we will starve.”

AMEG’s statement begs the crucial question: Why will loss of Arctic sea ice cause starvation?

Here is AMEG’s answer: The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is causing a disruption of jet stream behavior, which, in turn, produces weather extremes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. According to AMEG, the UK government was warned about, and given evidence, that the weather extremes experienced in the Northern Hemisphere are due to jet stream disruptions because of Arctic warming relative to the tropics.

AMEG goes on to say: “The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.” This blunt statement by AMEG is indicative of their strong conviction.

These dire warnings by our planet’s most accomplished climate scientists should be expected to ring alarm bells, to take immediate corrective action, within the halls of governments all across the globe. Otherwise, the planet may sizzle and extreme weather patterns, i.e., flooding and droughts, may choke off our food resources.

In this regard, AMEG says, “The Arctic is the air conditioner for the entire Northern Hemisphere so the hemispheric climate will change along with further accelerated warming,”

Here is a general description behind the derivation of bad news for Northern Hemispheric agriculture and world food production: Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University presented new research that demonstrates that Arctic sea ice loss impacts upper-level atmospheric circulation such that, “slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. Such high-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increase the probability of persistent (that is, longer-duration) weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.”

The jet stream has moved northwards over 270 miles over the past 22 years. The jet stream is located where the strongest winds are found at the top of the troposphere at 35,000-45,000 feet (7-9 miles) high, 200-300 mb in pressure.

Worldwide Extreme Weather Conditions

In point of fact, Dr. Francis’ explanation of the impact of Arctic sea-ice loss on weather events is exactly what the world has been experiencing these past few years, for example:

In the United States in 2012 a slow-moving jet stream was the culprit behind a “blocking weather pattern” within a massive dome of high pressure across the U.S. that led to remarkable March heat, sending temperatures in the Midwest and the Northeast soaring into the 80s overnight. And, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the subsequent 2012 drought was the worst since 1950.

Syria, a major part of the breadbasket of the Middle East has experienced a series of endless droughts from 2006-2011 with up to 60% of the land subject to severe drought and the most severe set of crop failures in the history of the Fertile Crescent.

India recently experienced is second major drought in four years, and as a result, at times a billion people were without power, experiencing the largest power outage in world history because of low hydropower resources and a strained power grid.

According to Dr. Mannava Sivakumar, Director of the WMO Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch, India’s severe drought experienced rainfall levels 70% below normal in the Punjab region, India’s breadbasket, Phil Behan, With Drought Intensifying Worldwide, UN Calls for Integrated Climate Policies, UN News Centre, August 21, 2012.

In August 2010 Russian PM Vladimir Putin shocked the world by announcing a ban on exports of grain because of the country’s worst drought in 40 years.

The jet streams over Russia and surrounding areas were locked with the trough of the wave over Pakistan, and the crest over Russia. The jet stream did not budge for 35 days. The trough was low pressure with lots of rain, and as a result, Pakistan flooded, beyond one month. At the time, worldwide television networks sent broadcasts of groups of Pakistanis huddled together on small landmasses surrounded by water. Simultaneously, Moscow was under a high-pressure ridge, experiencing a powerful 35-day heat wave. An estimated 50,000 Russians, over and above the normal mortality rate, died (not mentioned on TV), and the country lost 40% of its wheat crop.

According to People’s Daily online from China: “The drought has also left 6.61 million people and 4.24 million heads of livestock in the above regions short of drinking water.”2

Also, in China: “Four years of droughts in southern and northwest China have resulted in severe desertification, poor harvests, and water shortages, affecting the lives of 400 million people, according to a Chinese NGO,” Li Xia, Drought in China Turns Vast Tracts of Land to Desert, Epoch Times, March 19, 2013. According to the article, the desertification problem in China is the most severe in the world and could seriously hamper the country’s economic development. Alarmingly, China’s drought is its worst in 200 years, affecting more people than the entire population of North America.

As for other extreme weather consequences worldwide, according to meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters: “The recent unrest in the Middle East, which has been attributed, in part, to high food prices, gives us a warning of the type of global unrest that might result in future years if the climate continues to warm as expected. A hotter climate means more severe droughts will occur. We can expect an increasing number of unprecedented heat waves and droughts like the 2010 Russian drought in coming decades. This will significantly increase the odds of a world food emergency far worse than the 2007-2008 global food crises. When we also consider the world’s expanding population and the possibility that peak oil will make fertilizers and agriculture much more expensive, we have the potential for a perfect storm of events aligning in the near future, with droughts made significantly worse by climate change contributing to events that will cause disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and war.”3

And, the Flooding

An influential group of MPs in the UK have expressed concern about UK food security because of flooding “…which is increasing as climate change intensifies downpours….”4 “A run of poor weather since 2011 has led to extensive flooding of properties but has also severely dented the production of many foods, with the UK now being a net importer of wheat.”

In Central Europe, “While rescue teams scrambled to protect cities in Central Europe from some of the worst flooding in years, farm organizations are concerned about damage that could devastate crops for the entire growing season.”5 “The devastation follows a series of extreme weather events that have hit EU farmers in the past year, including a severe drought in southern Europe and extreme flooding in the United Kingdom.”

Floods and droughts are increasingly a worldwide problem as the weather adjusts to anomalous jet streams brought on by a warming Arctic, which is warming 2-3 times faster than the planet overall.

The Food Threat and Food Riots

“… when you see rapidly rising food prices, of course it leads to instability. We’ve seen [this] in the last five years across many countries, and you see rising food prices translate almost directly into street protests.”6

The FAO FOOD PRICE INDEX (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

The FAO Food Price Index (United Nations) over the past 10 years has more than doubled, in nominal terms, and it is up over 50%, in real terms (accounting for inflation.) Ominously, the 23-year FAO Food Price Index graph shows worldwide prices traded in a basic range of 100-125, in real terms, from 1990 to 2006. Since then, it has been in a range of 125 to 175, in real terms. This new higher plateau in worldwide food prices most likely reflects abnormal agricultural conditions as exemplified by droughts and other embedded weather conditions, like floods. The FAO Food Price Index graph has the appearance of a bull market in the making, implying the distinct possibility of much higher food prices.

As it goes, and according to the above-referenced Council on Foreign Relations article, “You’re going to see the continuation of [political] instability driven in part by rapidly rising food prices. In 2008, we had food protests across much of the Middle East… Egypt is already spending about one-third of its subsidies on food, and it is draining the Egyptian foreign exchange reserve to continue those subsidies. This combination of an already mobilized population out on the streets demanding lots of different changes [in Egypt], and rising food prices is going to create a very unstable atmosphere.”

“Nations reliant on food imports, including Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan are especially vulnerable to unrest, according to a report by the National Intelligence Council… More than 60 food riots erupted worldwide from 2007 to 2009.”7

Speaking at the International Food Safety Training Laboratory in York, England, Tim Benton, professor of Ecology at the University of Leeds and head of the UK’s Global Food Partnership said, “The probability of extreme weather to the extent that it will destroy any local agricultural production is increasing very, very rapidly… That is quite frightening because plants and production systems are adapted to produce food under normal circumstances. If the climate continues to change, we will get to the point where this will simply fall apart.”8

The prospect of food production getting to the point where “this will simply fall apart” in various locales of the world is unimaginable, but then again, it was not too many years ago when an ice-free Arctic was unimaginable. Changes in climate have a nasty habit of slowly creeping up on humanity until all of a sudden serious scientists are finally heard to say (after repeated warnings for years): We’ve got an emergency here. Take action now or starve. This is what is being said right now, but it is very difficult for people to absorb and fully appreciate the tenor of these clarion calls.

For inexplicable reasons, it does not seem possible that catastrophe will occur… in large measure, because people do not want to believe it! Also, it is too horrendous to seriously contemplate. Reading an article like this one may be interesting and entertaining, to a degree, but afterwards, people carry on with life, assuming the best.

Nevertheless, the reality is that Arctic ice is melting away at its fastest pace ever, which, in turn, prompts methane, which is 100 times more powerful than CO2, to spew into the atmosphere like gangbusters, all of which spells runaway global warming, and furthermore, as a very nasty prelude, freakish weather patterns threaten the world’s food supply.

What more can people do but carry on with everyday life. No, not true! People make the world go round, and they influence policies that directly cause an ice-free Arctic in the first instance. If people cause it, hopefully, they can fix it, and this is the message preached by AMEG. But, who is listening and who is taking an active role is the single biggest conundrum of the 21st century?

So far, steps to curb the ravages of climate change have been tiny baby steps, not big enough to tame a sleeping giant.

Excerpts of Letter Addressed to World Leaders from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group:

-Emergency intervention to stabilize Arctic sea ice and thereby Arctic methane is today a matter of our survival.
-The latest research expedition to the region… witnessed methane plumes on a ‘fantastic scale’… to equal methane emissions from all the other oceans put together.
-The latest available data indicate there is a 5-10% possibility of the Arctic being ice free in September 2013, more likely 2015, and with 95% confidence by 2018. This, according to the recognized world authorities on Arctic sea ice, Prof. Wadhams and Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski, is the point of no return for summer sea ice. Once past this point, it could prove impossible to reverse the retreat by any kind of intervention.
-The conditions that have long been recognized as potentially causing vast quantities of methane to be released in the Arctic are clearly developing. The calamitous impacts of inaction are well-known – runaway climate change.

On a Positive Note: One Solution

The agricultural problems associated with extreme climate change are substantive; however, on a positive note, human ingenuity may offer a solution – Vertical Farms in cities. The world’s first commercial Vertical Farm is located in Singapore, built by Sky Greens Farms, producing one ton of fresh veggies every other day, which are sold in local supermarkets, and the produce is a hit with consumers! The farm consists of 120 aluminum towers thirty feet tall, like giant greenhouses, jutting into the sky. This is the world’s first low carbon hydraulic water-driven, tropical vegetable urban Vertical Farm, using minimal land, water and energy. Hopefully, ingenuity like this may help solve the world’s food problems in the face of impending extreme climate change, as dictated by a melting Arctic, but it will not resolve the onset of horrendous weather-related events.

Quote from astronaut Mike Collins (Apollo 11): “Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.”

  1. Alan Buls, Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic? NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, June 10, 2013. []
  2. Drought Affects 7.3 mln China Farmland Hectares,” April 3, 2013. []
  3. China’s Droughts Nears Worst in 200 Years, Adding Pressure to World Food Prices, Climate Progress, February 14, 2011. []
  4. Damian Carrington, Lack of Food Protection Spending Threatening UK Food Security, say MPs, The Guardian, July 4, 2013. []
  5. Farmers Brace for Major Losses from Central European Floods, EurActiv, June 7, 2013. []
  6. Isobel Coleman/Interview, U.S. Drought and Rising Global Food Prices, Council on Foreign Relations, Aug. 2, 2012. []
  7. Tony C. Dreibus & Elizabeth Campbell, Global Food Reserves Falling as Drought Wilts Crops, Bloomberg, August 9, 2012. []
  8. Gary Scattergood, Extreme Weather ‘Likely’ to Wipe Out Food Production, Food Manufacture.co.uk, January 31, 2013. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

Ecocide And The Soul Of A Nation

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Oldspeak: “To turn a blind eye to the natural world, as we have done, translates into psychical ecocide. Perception is degraded. Language truncated. Life becomes dispossessed of purpose and meaning. Apropos, the rise and banal persistence of: The United States of Whatever. Under these circumstances “whatever” translates into, inner and extant, deadly super storms, ecocide and desertification (including and related to the desertification of language). As we decimate the earth’s biodiversity, we diminish our lexicon. Our thoughts cannot take wing; our imaginings cannot take root and flower; our passions cannot flow; our putrefying pathologies cannot be composted.  Divested of an eloquence of thought, expression and action — devoid of a deep connection to and denied of constant dialog with earth, sky, wind and water — we cannot retain enough humanity to remain viable as a species. By evincing a state of mind that is indifferent to the wanton destruction of our planet’s interdependent web of biodiversity, we lay waste, on a personal and collective basis, to the evolving, vital ecosystem of the psyche, thereby creating a bland, dismal, corporate monoculture, that is both manifest and internalized…  The emptiness of life in the neoliberal corporate/consumer state has grown increasingly unbearable; the carnage inflicted on our planet is indefensible; and its present trajectory is tragically untenable….  The catastrophic consequences that the demise of the public commons has on the human personality, in combination with the societal repercussions of a populace that receives the vast majority of information from within the bubble of an enveloping media hologram attendant to a grid of authoritarianism that determines and degrades the criteria of almost all experience in the corporate state. Yet these unhinged conventionalities do not create a catalyst to action, but inflict angst, ennui and anomie. How can this be? By what means does passivity before and complicity in one’s own debasement become normalized? By small bribes as reward for compliance and severe consequences for attempts at defiance … that is how. This state of affairs serves as the sine qua non for any reign of oppression and cultural track towards catastrophe.” – Phil Rockstroh

By what means does passivity before and complicity in one’s own debasement become normalized?” That is the key question for me. Phil is on the right track when he identifies the profit motive and brutal punishment for non-compliance. We’re being socialized to further disconnect from our environment and each other via the seductive ubiquity of our ever dazzling and all-encompassing “convenience” technology. And in truly Orwellian fashion being sold on it by being told that it will connect us in a myriad of new, cool and exciting ways. Our children are being taught that Really Existing Democratic Capitalism is the greatest economic system in the world, that the market knows best, and that the way to success and good standing in the society is to be educated in the best schools and institutions then sell one’s self to the denizens of the market and our richest and most powerful “citizens”: corporations. We’ve internalized the cold, calculating, empathy-devoid, data-driven, metrics based worldview of these “citizens”.  I see it every time  I walk down the street in New York. The aggressive, hurried, oblivious, unfriendly, narcissistic, ill-feeling, actively indifferent and ignorant states that most live their lives in.  Morality, openness, transparency, fairness, honesty, equity, selfless cooperation, are constantly invoked as the democratic ideals they are. But these ideals are but subject to gross and disfiguring interpretation depending on how much profit or power stands to be gained. We cannot continue to act as if our ecosystem will continue to support us indefinitely if we continue on this ecocidal path. ” –OSJ

By Phil Rockstroh @ Consortium News:

The reality of and the outward toll inflicted by greenhouse-gas engendered Climate Change is clearly evident (to all but the corrupt and devoutly ignorant) e.g. increasingly destructive and deadly tornadoes and hurricanes, destruction of marine life, severe droughts and rapacious wild fires — landscapes of death, scattered debris and shattered lives.

But what are the psychical effects of chronic denial, noxious indifference and compulsive prevarication as related to a matter as all-encompassing and crucial as our relationship with the climate of our planet?

A tornado touching down in central Oklahoma on May 3, 1999. (U.S. government photo)

Our current catastrophe of estrangement, termed “our way of life,” we experience as a denuding of resonance, meaning and purpose, as a prevailing sense of emptiness and unease, as a craving for distraction, as an inchoate longing for change and transformation, yet a diffidence to the point of paralysis insofar as any means to expedite longing and libido into societal-altering action.

Estrangement from nature is estrangement from the landscape of the soul. The cosmos and the soul carry the same blueprint; the forces were forged in the same fires of infinity. In matters, galactic and quotidian, there is not a form that rises, waxes and wanes in nature that does not have an analog in our human physicality, faculties and endeavors.

To turn a blind eye to the natural world, as we have done, translates into psychical ecocide. Perception is degraded. Language truncated. Life becomes dispossessed of purpose and meaning. Apropos, the rise and banal persistence of: The United States of Whatever.

Under these circumstances “whatever” translates into, inner and extant, deadly super storms, ecocide and desertification (including and related to the desertification of language). As we decimate the earth’s biodiversity, we diminish our lexicon. Our thoughts cannot take wing; our imaginings cannot take root and flower; our passions cannot flow; our putrefying pathologies cannot be composted.

Divested of an eloquence of thought, expression and action — devoid of a deep connection to and denied of constant dialog with earth, sky, wind and water — we cannot retain enough humanity to remain viable as a species.

By evincing a state of mind that is indifferent to the wanton destruction of our planet’s interdependent web of biodiversity, we lay waste, on a personal and collective basis, to the evolving, vital ecosystem of the psyche, thereby creating a bland, dismal, corporate monoculture, that is both manifest and internalized.

The emptiness of life in the neoliberal corporate/consumer state has grown increasingly unbearable; the carnage inflicted on our planet is indefensible; and its present trajectory is tragically untenable.

Our last, best option is a top-to-bottom re-visioning. In diametric opposition, at paradigm’s end, we are witness to the deranged marriage of the profligate and the parsimonious. The covert offshore bank accounts of the greed-maddened hyper-wealthy and the teeming landfill are dismal emblems of late-capitalist madness.

The moribund mythos (manic in the face of its undoing) of “productivity” exists at the core of the capitalist delusion. Discussing the matter with a capitalist true-believer is like talking to an obsessive lunatic about his vast collection of string and his compulsive hoarding of rubber bands and bread ties.

Behind the situation is the crackpot pragmatism of state capitalism, e.g., that all things must have a practical purpose in order that they be exploited for maximum productivity as a means of generating obscene sums of wealth for a tiny (loose knit) cabal of global economic elite. (Yet the motives driving the mania of a system geared to perpetual growth, conveniently, are omitted from almost all mainstream discussions of the matter.)

One’s humanity is restored by tears and laughter … by the marriage of eros and empathy. We must grieve for the harm we have wrought and guffaw at our egoist folly; we must shed copious tears and be seized by outright, sustained laughter. Self-awareness is tantamount to salvation, and an experience akin to rebirth is bestowed by the apprehension of the ridiculous nature of vanity and empty striving.

Then and only then, do conditions become favorable for restoration and re-visioning. Thus, grace falls as a forgiving rain.

In May of last year, my family laid my father to rest. Shortly after my return to New York City from Georgia, we received the news that my wife, Angela, was pregnant. Thus, fate fitted me with the garments of fatherhood. The clothing of the son sent to the consignment shop, I stood in awe, and with more than a little trepidation, before unfolding circumstance.

Grief and longing mingled and merged within me. At night, I dreamed of friends from my youth who have died over the passing years. With increasing frequency, during this past year, I have had reoccurring dreams involving one post-adolescent friendship, in particular, the period surrounding the dawning of our awkward and painful puberty.

Chuck was redheaded, freckled, bespectacled, bully-bedeviled — a bright, sensitive, wounded soul, who would later succumb to the ravages of alcoholism. We shared an enthusiasm for books. We read Tolkien, of course, but also Camus, Celine, even Cervantes (having an ardor for books was a quixotic propensity in those days in the Deep South, and I suspect it still is).

We collected tropical fish — their bright, color-emblazoned markings stood in vivid contrast to the desolate, laboring-class milieu that was foisted as our fate.

“You two, heads-in-the-clouds, noses-in-books losers will have to face the real world one day, and, I’ll tell you what, that will be one sorry-ass sight,” some figure of grim authority would bandy at us.

“Do you understand what I’m saying, boy?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I understand.”

“You, show some respect for your elders, by answering, ‘Yes, sir.’ Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” I replied, earnestly … having grown obtuse by the anxiety inflicted by attempting to appear submissive to the demands of unreasonable power.

“Look here, smart-ass. I’ve about had my fill of your insolence.”

Nonplussed. I would have said anything to end the encounter. But some life-bestowing daemon would stir within … most likely, it was the same inner, trickster entity responsible for occluding my ability to comprehend what this authoritarian jerk-rocket was demanding of me.

“What is your problem, boy? Just what kind of a stupid animal are you?” — an inquiry that provided an opening for the daemon.

“I was raised by raccoons, sir.”

“You … what?”

“My parents were killed by your Klansman relatives. I escaped into the woods. And I was adopted by nocturnal, fur-bearing mammals. I’m untrainable. I scurry through the darkness. I bite when cornered. My destiny has been forged by fate. I am Raccoon Boy, enemy of racists and power mad freaks.

“I have to confess, it is my reverence for my poor, slain parents that will not allow me to address you with deference nor grant you respect, as you have demanded. In short, I can either submit to calling you sir or I can betray my destiny. But I cannot do both.

“Therefore, do with me what you will. But you will never again sleep easy … for my raccoon brothers and sisters will track you down and you will wish we had never met. You will never again hear a rustling in the underbrush and not be stricken with the knowledge that you are in the presence of your doom.”

These sorts of responses would often end such encounters. In the South, in those days, crazy people were given a great deal of latitude.

At present, in my nighttime dreams of the time, I often find myself in the company of Chuck at the intersection of two major streets that cut through the area near our school, North Decatur and Clairmont Road. In waking life, Chuck and I, in order to avoid confrontations with neighborhood boys who viewed us as “hippie faggots” did not venture beyond this demarcation point. The landscape beyond was fraught with peril.

Even in adult life, Chuck never ventured far from home, and when he did, he was fortified with drink. Many times, at transition points in my life, my soul summons dreams of Chuck and me, our hearts … filled with yearning — yet we stand diffident, to the point of paralysis, at the intersection of North Decatur and Clairmont Road.

The world outside of the boundaries decreed by outward circumstance and imposed by one’s fears is fraught with uncertainty to the degree that it is veiled in mystery. There are legions of authoritarian bastards and mindless bullies about. Regardless, one must venture forth. One does have allies — the spirit of departed friends and inner daemons with quicksilver wit et al.

The future is always uncertain. But Raccoon Boy will be there to meet what comes.

Climate Change denial. Political duopoly. The corrosive effect of empire, maintained by militarism, on a foundering republic. The noxious food manufactured and consumed under corporate state oligarchy.

The catastrophic consequences that the demise of the public commons has on the human personality, in combination with the societal repercussions of a populace that receives the vast majority of information from within the bubble of an enveloping media hologram attendant to a grid of authoritarianism that determines and degrades the criteria of almost all experience in the corporate state.

Yet these unhinged conventionalities do not create a catalyst to action, but inflict angst, ennui and anomie. How can this be? By what means does passivity before and complicity in one’s own debasement become normalized? By small bribes as reward for compliance and severe consequences for attempts at defiance … that is how. This state of affairs serves as the sine qua non for any reign of oppression and cultural track towards catastrophe.

If an individual is coerced into conformity by his/her livelihood being threatened, even by implicit means, angst will be experienced. As a result, one will attempt to find a means of relieving the incurred sense of unease. And this is where the small bribes, that serve as palliatives to ease angst, come in.

If challenging (seemingly) implacable power results in a termination of employment or a stint of incarceration, of which, a record will follow one through life, most will find the repercussions of defying authority unbearable. One’s image of oneself would be endangered, or so it seems, by such a circumstance.

Yet what are the consequences of submission, in regard to one’s sense of self? Because, in order to submit, an individual must shunt from consciousness the painful implications of one’s predicament, a general diminution of perception occurs. Thus, for example, Climate Change denial is but part and parcel of a larger, enforced cosmology of deception, both personal and societal in origin.

At our present rate, the oceans and seas of the world will be dead in less than half a century. Humankind has become a mindless, devouring leviathan. Slice open our collective belly and the ill-gotten bounty of our besieged earth will be disgorged.

What is the music of the spheres? asked Schopenhauer. “Munch. Munch. Munch.”

Yet, tone-deaf, and rapacious, we are devouring the world in a manner that is closer in form to a banal pop song; a pestilence of ditties, resonant of the landfill, is descending in the form of consumerist locust.

When our days are denuded of depth, meaning and inspired purpose, we gorge our bellies in an attempt to alleviate the ache of emptiness. The operatives of the corporate/commercial hologram have induced us to devour the planet like a serving of Hot Pockets. Yet the emptiness within only grows.

We have been enticed to believe that remedy will be found in more of what caused our misery in the first place. Relief, even redemption, will be found in yet MORE. Thus, we come upon the insatiable leviathan that glides within. We are lodged in the monster’s belly, wherein we mistake his impersonal appetite for our own. In this way, the consumer is consumed by the collective.

How does one sate a force that is insatiable? By seizing back one’s unique identity. The angel whose name is Enough arrives within one’s reclaimed human voice. It comes down to this: ecology or catastrophe.

Because one’s humanity is formed and rounded by one’s limits, we must be open to the infinity of forms that is the ecosystem of the soul but not allow vanity to attempt to claim dominion over what is ungovernable. Thus, one regains one’s soul by speaking in a human voice.

Yes, it is tinged with universal fire, but, to we human beings, its home is the hearth of the human heart, within which empty appetite is transmuted into the yearnings of the heart; thereby, empty motion becomes emotion; passion deepens into compassion.

The matter does not involve searching for redemption nor striving for perfection; instead, it involves awakening … an awakening to the vast multiverse of the dreaming heart. Therein, the oceans are teeming with vivid life.

And where there exists the implicate order of the soul there exists the wherewithal to rise up and resist the forces that lay siege to one’s innate humanity.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com/ And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh